City Votes in Favor of 3 ‘Bed-Bug’ Nurses
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Free nurses for public health, no thanks. Free nurses for bed bugs, yes please.

A city committee chastened by public and political blowback stemming from a previous decision to reject nurses from the province has apparently learned the error of its ways. On Tuesday, the budget committee voted to accept funds from Queen's Park for three permanent nurses trained to tackle the underlying health issues associated with tenants and homeowners overrun with bed bugs.

Currently, the city's Board of Health has been carving off money from other programs to combat the growing problems posed by the rice-sized pests, a funding model "which is not sustainable," said David McKeown, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health.

The Mayor and his allies on city council have been reticent to accept provincial money for public health, arguing that the city is left to hold the tab when Queen's Park shuts off the tap.

Councillor Doug Ford underscored those concerns on Tuesday before introducing a motion that would ensure the bed-bug nurses come at no cost to the city and that the positions would be eliminated as soon as provincial funding dries up.

The motion would prevent the city from being "the bad guys when the money runs out," said Mr. Ford.

Committee chair Mike Del Grande said they had received "3,000 e-mails" protesting the city's last rejection of provincial nursing funds.

"We listen even though people claim that we don't," he said. "I think a motion like [Mr. Ford's] would have been probably more helpful [in the previous case]."

The $255,000 in provincial funding is part of Premier Dalton McGuinty's pledge to hire 9,000 nurses province-wide. In June, the Executive Committee chaired by the mayor voted to defer provincial money for two public health nurses indefinitely, despite assurances that the provincial funding would be ongoing. "Who is going to be on the hook for it once the provincial funding goes? We are," Mayor Rob Ford said after the meeting. "We have enough people in public health right now."

Mr. Del Grande said that while he appreciated the most recent provincial offer, he isn't wild about the idea of dropping all those positions on municipal books. "We're concerned that we're not hung to dry," he said.

The public health nurses will focus on the underlying causes of bed-bug infestation. Dr. McKeown said that mental-health issues often account for hoarding and sanitation issues that attract the swarms.

"The people who have the most severe infestations, whose infestations are causing the biggest problem, particularly in multi-unit dwellings, are people who have mental health problems, disabilities, substance abuse problems, and aren't able to deal with the infestations themselves," he said.

Despite the doctor's reasoning, both Mr. Del Grande and Mr. Ford also stated their preference for exterminators rather than nurses.

"I think monies would be better allocated to have something towards actual extermination," Mr. Del Grande said. "Will a public health nurse actually stomp on a bed bug?"

The decision will go before Mayor Ford's Executive Committee next month.